TIFF 2019: First Reactions to Roger Michell’s ‘Blackbird’ Find Charm in a Delicate Narrative

Toronto International Film Festival saw the premiere of Roger Michell’s latest “Blackbird,” a remake of the award-winning Danish drama, “Silent Heart.” First reactions are mixed, with some critics still finding the heart at the center of its delicate story. The film stars Susan Sarandon, Kate Winslet, Mia Wasikowska, Sam Neill, Lindsay Duncan, Rainn Wilson, Bex Taylor-Klaus and Anson Boon.

The synopsis reads:

Lily (Sarandon) is terminally ill. Having considered her remaining options, and with the support of her husband Paul (Neill), she has decided to end her life on her own terms. Lily and Paul summon their loved ones to their country house for one final gathering, but the responses vary, especially those of Lily’s daughters, Jennifer (Winslet) and Anna (Mia Wasikowska), whose long-standing unresolved conflicts come surging to the surface and threaten to destabilize what was intended to be a peaceful collective farewell.

Michell directs this sensitive family drama from a script by Christian Torpe. Michell’s previous films include “Notting Hill,” “Venus,” “Enduring Love” and “My Cousin Rachel.” His most recent project was last year’s “Tea with the Dames,” a documentary in conversation with Dames Judi Dench, Eileen Atkins, Joan Plowright and Maggie Smith.

Blackbird”‘s lead, Susan Sarandon, is an Academy Award winner, a recognition earned for her role in Tim Robbins’ “Dead Man Walking.” She stars in Michell’s remake of the Danish film, where one woman decides to take agency of her passing in dignified circumstances. One critic described the film a “tearjerker,” even through the veil of familiar tropes.

Kate Erbland of Indie Wire says the film has a “seriously wrenching-sounding plotline — a remake of a Danish euthanasia drama?! — but a game cast and nimble direction help it find both heart and humor.” In her review she writes:

…“Blackbird” inevitably feels a bit stagey, with characters walking in and out of rooms, theatrical blocking dominating most scenes (particularly the ones involving the entire motley crew), and a few exaggerated facial expressions. But Michell course-corrects when he can, utilizing the house’s many windows to peek in for serendipitous looks at scenes both banal and profound.

Michell spends the second act of the film teetering between genuinely funny family trivialities (mostly lots of bickering) and searing emotional showdowns.

For every moment of graceful understanding or a hearty chuckle, there’s a gut punch to follow.

“Blackbird” is produced by Busted Shark Productions, Eclectic Pictures and Millennium Films. A U.S. release date is to be determined. The film will screen at the BFI London Film Festival October 6.

What do you think of the first reactions for “Blackbird” out of TIFF? Comment your thoughts below!